Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”: Lost in Translation?

Erica Law

Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”: Lost in Translation?

Scarlett Johansson: Opening Credits of Lost in Translation

Scarlett Johansson: Opening Credits of Lost in Translation



Lost in Translation (2003), begins with a visual of Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) in pink sheer underwear and a sweater, a representation of woman as both spectacle, and mysterious object simultaneously. The voyeuristic nature of the opening credits (or pretext) of the film, shows this scene for close to 30 seconds, keeping our attention on Charlotte’s leg movements, and presenting a very raw display of her body in the film. Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” illuminates our reading of this particular scene when she states, “the paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world” (711). Charlotte is gendered through their use of sheer pink underwear, and we are beholden to her identity due to her feminine physique, or what we might ascertain as “feminine,” and asserts that we partake in blatant scopophilia. We see Charlotte as a visual of this castrated woman, leaving us with the idea of the monstrous feminine throughout the film through Charlotte’s use of her intelligence (or what her husband might think to be as monstrous and castrating, the idea that she is perhaps more intelligent than others). The sheer underwear leaves little to the imagination, and while we could see more of Charlotte (Johansson’s body), it’s interesting that there is a blatantly voyeuristic scene, one in which she seems to be engaged in something other than laying around for our visual benefit. Furthermore, the fact that Charlotte, Johansson’s character, is a philosophy graduate from Yale also shows an interesting take on our analysis of Charlotte’s underwear scene. Mulvey states that, “woman’s desire is subjected to her image as bearer of the bleeding wound, she can exist only in relation to castration and cannot transcend it” (712).

Charlotte is often left to her own devices in her abandoned hotel room, from which John, (her husband) has left due to his job. At one point he asks her why she has to, “make everyone feel stupid.” To which she replies, she “thought it was funny.” John dismisses this, and tells her he loves her and rushes off. With this particular scene, Charlotte is painted as an educated young woman, and Kelly (Anna Ferris) is portrayed as an uneducated model, or “thing,” unable to correctly identify herself even through her anonymous name, Evelyn Waugh, to which Charlotte says that Evelyn Waugh was a male. In some ways, this film wants us to deconstruct Charlotte’s beauty, by first recognizing her as an intelligent, educated, woman, able to wear underwear and sweaters as a means to visually represent the “in-between” of hyper-sexualization, but on the other hand she is presented as a lonely wife, abandoned and cast off by her working husband.

What’s more—Charlotte longs to find her purpose, but is stuck in a hotel room waiting longingly (at times) for her husband to return. In some ways, her experiences represent the symbolic order, as she is left to discover her path through males (by her husband, and by Bill). As Mulvey asserts, “it is said that analyzing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it,” which is my main prerogative by writing about Charlotte’s sheer pink underwear (713). Charlotte plays the “person as object” at the beginning, because she is the object of femininity we are supposed to focus on. When we realize further on in the film that it is in fact Charlotte that is wearing the underwear in the beginning of the film, we are left to wonder how this representation of the woman is working within the sphere of the film. Mulvey states, “Although the instinct is modified by other factors, in particular the constitution of the ego, it continues to exist as the erotic basis for pleasure in looking at another person as object” (713). Charlotte could be a castrating female to men; therefore, she is posed as a sexual and intellectual threat to their very existence and their lives as they know it.


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